February 17, 2012

For most of the past six years, I lived in an alternate universe: that of the night worker.

Many labored parallel to me, but I glimpsed only a handful: the office cleaners whose feather dusters suddenly traversed the top of the wall of my cubicle, the security guards struggling to stay awake, the cabdrivers who took me home most nights.

Others would sometimes emerge in the darkness: the homeless people who slept side by side under the overhang of a building on L Street; the men walking down side streets who furtively accepted cash from passers-by; a robber who vanished with my purse.

On Euclid Street after 3 a.m. one night, a man on a bicycle paused to admire a woman hula-hooping on the sidewalk.

On a few nights, my cabdriver and I noticed a young man straining to pedal his bicycle up Florida Avenue. On the seat behind him was a woman we imagined to be his wife or girlfriend, perhaps one of the thousands who clean downtown offices at night.

If not for my late hours, I would never have learned of a special Chair Service offered by the night concierge in my apartment building. In the lobby one night, I encountered three people trying to steer a petite, mightily resistant woman toward the elevators. It was not going well; one of the men’s eyeglasses had been knocked off in the struggle.

The concierge came to the rescue with his office chair. He and the companions managed to deposit the drunk woman onto it. Then he wheeled her into the elevator, all the while advising her friends to watch over her the rest of the night to make sure she didn’t choke.

Last summer, after living nearly eight years in the District, I moved to Falls Church. When I could, I caught one of the last Metro trains in the direction of my new home.

My walks to and from the Metro acquainted me with other occupiers of the night: in the city, the rats that dart out of alleys, across streets, past the monument in Washington Circle. In the suburbs, the startled rabbits that hopped into the brush as I approached with my flashlight; insects whose wings beat against me as I unlocked my front door; whatever creature — a fox, perhaps — cried out again and again like a human in distress, its call piercing the silence.

Last month, I moved to an earlier shift, and I am rediscovering a regular rhythm of sleep.

So good night to all the cabdrivers who sacrificed their own rest to take me safely home; I will miss your stories of your homelands. Good night to the security guards and janitorial workers; may you someday earn enough in your day jobs that you don’t need to work through much of the night as well. Good night, bunny rabbits. I shall not frighten you away from your midnight nibbling again.

Good night, night.

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